Garden, the spirit of a nation | Sunday Observer

Garden, the spirit of a nation

1 November, 2020

How does one set about initiating a new garden or replacing the old one that you have decided to replace? The idea can be confusing but the task is so rewarding that it will spurn you to immediate action if you a nature lover. On a new morning there is nothing to feast your eye on than a beautiful garden whether big or small. May be years of growing - time can be frustrating but to watch the garden taking shape would be fascinating while calming the mind as well as the body.

The site is most important for plants to thrive with each other, the basics being water and fertilizer intake, drought-resistant under shady trees if the garden happens to have any because Sri Lanka has some of the best trees in the world that can weather the seasons. The flowering types are a sensation, tall erect and spreading.

Deciding on the baseline from which to work, a straight simple object like a boundary wall if you have any, consider its length to fit the purpose.

Though not essential, it can prove a backdrop to laid-beds or collected shrubs put together if necessary for want of space. Try not to cover all grass areas and remember to leave a few patches of grass untouched. The partial division of a small area can make it seem larger and more interesting by emphasising the half seen, allowing the eye to penetrate further in one direction than another and leave the feeling all the time that there is something beyond. Another way of altering proportion and size is by the careful use of shade.

Use of water

In Sri Lanka the contrast between the two is seldom as brilliant as abroad. However, shadow can conceal many bad points without drawing attention. A dark pointes trellis covered with Jasmines or the likes of other yellow grouped in sunlight will give a mysterious effect and the garden will extend to unseen shadows. If one wishes, plant rough walls in shades and make it look like boundaries with the feeling of a forest beyond. The unseen shadows will play a big role to expend a larger effect, playing tricks with vision.

'Water, water everywhere' so said The Ancient Mariner, lost at sea with not a drop to drink; but thanks to us who have fresh water everywhere extending from rivers to glorious cascades of waterfall and small water pools. Water in the form of a tiny pool or fountain basin can be of tremendous help for illusions of all kinds. Apart from the sound of moving and falling water that always gives us, the greatest use of water in the garden is reflection. For this reason pools should always be painted black inside, for not only do they appear of limitless depth but they also produce the best reflections. Blue pools may be used to achieve special effects in that colour but all other benefits of water are thereby lost. Dark pools of this kind in positions such as town courtyards where the lateral rays of the sun are cut off, can bring a brilliant patch of sky down to lighten what may otherwise be rather dark and dank surroundings.

Larger pools can often be built to reflect the objects in the garden or even outside, giving double importance to some feature which one would wish to emphasise. Because of its power of reflection, the level of water in relation to the surrounding ground is very important. Try always to keep water level and ground level as close as possible.

Water below ground level would appear to be down because the depth of the level is reflected if it is below and therefore appear to be a few inches down and the appearance already begins to be that of a well rather than a pool or pond. For this reason one should always make pools slightly larger than intended and the lower the intended water level the larger the actual water surface required to compensate. One large pool of simple design or shape is worth half a dozen contorted puddles joined by an unconvincing stream.

Ground shaping

Water which looks good in slight hollow, slither hollow, either natural or manmade, leads to the consideration of ground shaping and levels. Few gardens are exactly flat and even those which are, a minor excavation will produce enough soil to create interesting modulations of the ground surface. But do not undulate for the sake of doing so. A slight valley formation will emphasise what lies at the end of it, whether a seat, a view or an urn on a stand.

A very gentle mound will give point to a group of trees standing on a lawn or surrounded by banks of shrubs, which will appear intimate and scheduled. A terrace raised only six inches above the rest of the garden will give much importance than if the two were on the same level. But if the terrace is too narrow for its length, the fault will be magnified if it is at a higher level.

Exterior proportions are not the same as those used indoors, simply because the scale of everything outside is larger. Many odd looking and unsatisfactory features would have arisen because internal proportions have been used outdoors. When in doubt, make it larger, the steps wider and shallower, the terrace broader and borders deeper. Our natural inclination is to design things which are too small and are reduced to insignificant size of the outdoor world or the exuberance of the plant material which soon swamps the little beds and invades the narrow paths.

Having considered some of the effects that can be achieved, it is about time to think about the various elements concerned in greater detail. Harmony of materials and shapes fall into two classes, vertical structures including wall fences, screens, gateways, pergolas and garden buildings. Here, one should look at the relationship of the objects.

How certain shapes and materials relate to create satisfying gardens which is an essential factor to achieve in underlying unity which will hold the design together. In an extreme example one should not use pre-cast bricks. They look irritating and incongruous and would irritate rather than offer pleasure.

Therefore, gardening is soul-searching, with a delight in growing and goes on forever and ever even without one's knowledge. If not for gardening where will one find food as well as the beauty of nature?

(Gardening when published, the first edition of 1,000 copies was sold out overnight)